Foden eyes breakthrough victory
May 20, 2011
Ben Foden was on the scoresheet in Northampton's Heineken Cup semi-final win over Perpignan © Getty Images
Ben Foden believes that it is imperative that only victory in Saturday's Heineken Cup final clash with Leinster will confirm the club's re-emergence as one of the strongest and biggest clubs in European rugby.
The Saints suffered the ignominy of relegation from the Aviva Premiership in 2007 but they have bounced back in impressive fashion, winning promotion back to the top flight at the first attempt before going on to lift the European Challenge Cup and the Anglo-Welsh in successive seasons.
However, they suffered a disappointing exit at the hands of Leicester in this year's Premiership play-off semi-finals and Foden believes that that failure has made their clash with Leinster in Cardiff all the more important.
"We need a major statement because this club is all about major silverware and winning major finals," he said. "We want to get this club back to where it should be, which is being in the top four in the Premiership and winning trophies. We want to compare ourselves to the Leicesters of the world.
"We have been building every year and now we have taken a stride forward on last year. But we must start winning major trophies, so it's important that we take a chance like tomorrow."
Northampton have won the premier trophy in European club rugby once before, in 2000 against another Irish side in the shape of Munster, and Foden believes that victory on Saturday would confirm that the Saints are finally back where they belong.
"Winning tomorrow would be massive. Obviously Northampton were in a dark place a few years ago when they got relegated," added Foden. "But now we have reached our first major final - if the Heineken Cup and Premiership are the two you aim for - and we need to take this chance with both hands. We want to put Northampton back on the map."
Leinster go into the game as favourites, though, on the back of their impressive win over French giants Toulouse in the last four. The province boasts a line-up containing 12 Ireland internationals and some pundits believe that that will prove decisive given that the Irish routed England in the final round of this year's Six Nations. Not so, according to Foden.
"It's a different situation, a different group of players," he said. "I know a lot of people are saying it's Ireland-England, the re-match, but not really for us. We are Northampton Saints, an English team, but we have players from all over the place and the same goes for them."
The big news in terms of team selection is that Leinster have been able to name Brian O'Driscoll in his regular berth in midfield after the Ireland skipper recovered from a knee injury sustained in last weekend's Magners League play-off semi-final win over Ulster. One could be forgiven for assuming that Foden would be disappointed by O'Driscoll's availability but the England fullback is looking forward to once again sharing the field with the former Lions captain.
"I admired Brian O'Driscoll when I was younger and I still admire him today," said Foden. "He's still doing great things for Ireland and Leinster. Someone like him goes down in the history books as one of the all-time greats.
"Obviously Leinster were playing a few mind games over whether he was going to play or not, but I was always 110% sure he'd take the field whether he has a knee or not!
"I want him to play as I want Leinster to field their strongest team and if we win I don't want people making excuses, saying 'they missed this player or that player'. I want it to be our best 15 against their best 15 and to really battle it out so that if we are crowned champions, we have done it the hard way."
Indeed, Foden is expecting not only a close-fought encounter but also one that the purists will savour given the expansive games both sides like to play.
"It will come down to who wants it more. I don't believe anyone will run away with it, the two teams are pretty evenly matched," he said. "Leinster pride themselves on winning in European rugby, and they want to win it to add to their collection of trophies they have already built up.
"It will be a massive game between two of the best sides in Europe, who play probably the most attractive rugby in Europe, meeting each other on a grand occasion. Hopefully it will be a great game, for the neutral fan as much as everyone on both sides."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"The only thing that will stop this England team from becoming a great team is themselves. They need to ask themselves 'what can we be?'" The Phil Vickery column
The latest Monday Maul looks at the hectic final weekend, the Lions hangover, the superb Mike Brown and the 'selfie'
"At the crux of this England team is a lack of fear, they are not afraid to throw playbooks out of the window." Tom Hamilton reports from Twickenham
"These little deft touches, the nuances O'Driscoll has perfected are what Ireland will miss most." Tom Hamilton on Brian O'Driscoll's final Test in Dublin